By Lesley Mealor / Edited by Samantha Bellerose, B.Ed, Dip.Dance (Performing Arts)
Jazz dance, with its origins in African music and culture, has long been a way to celebrate, communicate and entertain. The history of jazz dance isn’t often taught in the studio setting, but understanding where this commercially successful form of dance comes from, and how it has evolved, is an important part of improving as a jazz dancer.
In order to help your child improve in jazz dance, you can encourage practice at home, provide entertainment that focuses on jazz dance, and listen and move to a variety of music as a family.
Jazz dance actually comes in many forms, from Latin jazz to street jazz, jazz funk to lyrical jazz. If you and your child are new to jazz dance, you can find a plethora of information about the history of this style here, as well as what to expect from a jazz class here. But if you’ve come here looking for help with how to improve in jazz dance, read on!
Encourage Practicing At Home
Dancers who practice at home have a much better in-class experience because they are in the mindset to learn more often. If you are able to create a dedicated space at your home for dance, your child will have the opportunity to hone their jazz dance skills whenever they can!
To practice jazz dance at home, the best scenario is to have a dedicated dance space with proper flooring, a mirror, and a way to play music. This can be as simple as a corner of a bedroom or a section of the bonus room, or as elaborate as an entire basement turned dance studio!
For the best options to outfit your home dance space, be sure to visit our extensive page of resources for Home Dance Studio Inspiration!
Jazz Dance Exercises For Technique
Jazz dance requires quite a bit of technique to be successful at the many elements that make up the style. Jazz technique includes balance, core strength, body awareness, and isolations, among other things.
It helps to take ballet in conjunction with jazz because both styles require many of the same technical skills, but in jazz, these skills are done in parallel rather than turned out.
For the best jazz dance exercises for technique, visit our article here!
Jazz Dance Exercises For Musicality
Just like tap, jazz dance utilizes many different kinds of music, from actual jazz music, to big band swing music, to more current popular music.
Jazz dance also allows for a lot of personal style to infuse the choreographed movements, so musicality is incredibly important for dancers to develop in order to really dig deep into the heart of jazz dance.
The best jazz dance exercises for musicality can be found here!
Providing Entertainment That Focuses on Jazz Dance
Just like sneaking broccoli into a recipe to get your child to eat their veggies, sneaking education into entertainment is a great way to ensure your child is learning a bit more about the history of jazz dance!
1. Books That Focus on Jazz Dance
Unfortunately, there are not a lot of kid-friendly books about jazz dance specifically on the market. Most books about Jazz for children focus on Jazz music, but for a great selection you can read our post Best Books about Jazz Dance & Music for Kids!
Most of the available titles on jazz dance specifically are textbooks geared towards adult readers and will be a little dry for children. The following are a few I personally recommend, however take a look at our article written by Danielle Pierce-Masters for some more ideas!
Everybody Can Dance is a delightful rhyming book by Kara Navolio, written for the youngest of dancing readers. Not solely focused on jazz dance, this book shows us that dance is a way for all people to come together and enjoy movement and music. Some readers suggest breaking out your dress-up box and having a dance and costume party while reading!
In Dancing Shapes: Ballet and Body Awareness For Young Dancers, dancing mom and daughter duo Terrel and Kaelyn Lefferts have created a beautiful book of easy-to-follow photos of dance positions. Although “ballet” is in the title, the over 50 photos include all sorts of jazzy positions to re-create and contemplate. Produced by their company Once Upon A Dance, these authors have several other wonderful dance books to choose from as well.
Jazz Dance History – Roots and Branches is more of a textbook but is a fairly easy read for the older dancer who is interested in diving deep into their study of jazz dance. Focusing more on history than technique, this book contains an overview of the trends of jazz dance through the years and its relationships to the styles that came after it.
2. Movies That Focus on Jazz Dance
While there may not be a plethora of jazz dance books to choose from, there are more than enough jazz dance-focused movies to enjoy as a family! Since jazz dance spans such a variety of time periods and styles, I’ve listed these movies in order from earliest in history to most recent. For more info on each of these movies, see my reviews here!
Listen and Move to a Variety of Music
Like tap dance, jazz dance comes from a rich history of African culture, movement, and music. Jazz dance has always evolved with the current pop culture of the world in which it lives.
In the early days of both jazz and tap, the music used for these styles was traditionally jazz music, with syncopated rhythms and percussive elements.
Later, swing, blues, rock, and funk music would help jazz dance develop into the style we are familiar with today.
Now, the tendency of dance studios around the world is to use current pop music for jazz class.
However, many choreographers and teachers like to “throw back” to music of the past to pay homage to our jazz dance forefathers and help students learn to move in different ways.
1. How To Incorporate Different Styles of Music Into Your Child’s Life
In order to help your dancer become more malleable as a jazz dance student, it can be beneficial to play different music in your daily life.
That way, your child is not only becoming a more well-rounded human, but they’re also being familiarized with music that can help them in their dance studies.
As a jazz dance educator myself, I often add in music from the 50s and 60s for my jazz warm-ups, across-the-floor exercises, and choreography because young dancers have a tendency to only want to move in certain ways when current music is played.
When they hear a song from the 1960s, for example, suddenly the movement quality changes – shoulders begin to shimmy in a new way, a simple jazz walk becomes a strut, all in reaction to the music.
2. Utilize Music Streaming Services
If you subscribe to a music streaming service like Spotify or Apple Music, you have a world of music at your fingertips. I like to find the Billboard Top 40 lists from any given year and play the songs through.
You can involve your child by having them choose a year, and look up some of the famous social dances of that decade. Youtube has tons of great videos available for free, and as you listen to this vintage music, you can learn how people at the time danced by watching the videos.
If yours is not normally a household that plays music while cooking dinner or cleaning, it might be time to “change your tune”, so to speak. The more music young dancers are exposed to, the more creative they become in class.
My Favorite Jazz Class Music For All Ages
If you’re stuck on what music to play for your child when practicing jazz dance, here are my top 20 songs to use for jazz class! This list features music from many decades, with a variety of tempos, styles, and grooves. Happy jazzing!
- Loudspeaker by MUNA
- Get On Your Feet by Gloria Estefan
- Freeway of Love by Aretha Franklin
- Get Up Offa That Thing by James Brown
- Shake Your Body (Down To The Ground) by The Jacksons
- Jazz Machine by Black Machine
- Rich Man’s Frug by The Fosse Ensemble
- Jump For My Love by The Pointer Sisters
- Kiss The Stars by Pixie Lott
- Walking on Broken Glass by Annie Lennox
- Barefootin’ by Wilson Pickett
- I Wanna Dance With Somebody by Whitney Houston
- Send Me On My Way by Rusted Root
- On Broadway by The SMASH Cast
- Waka Waka by Shakira
- Brand New Day by The Wiz Cast
- Buster Voodoo by Rodrigo y Gabriela
- Baby I’m A Star by Prince
- Wow by Kylie Minogue
- September by Justin Timberlake, Anna Kendrick, and Earth, Wind & Fire
As you can see, there are many ways to help your dancer improve in jazz dance, some of which don’t even require dancing! Jazz dance, in a similar way to jazz music, is a lifestyle, and simply by surrounding your child with a variety of music, entertainment and thoughtful exercises, you can help inspire your dancer to be the best they can be!